This week, reduce stress at work: 3 Create gaps

In the first post of this series Marc Lesser reminded us that “we do less by pausing in the midst of activities”. Developing a habit  or practice of creating gaps is a key skill in helping us remain mindful during our workday, especially when we are very busy. Again, here are a few suggested practical ways we can do this. If you like you can try them. Developing little habits around things we do each day and practicing them when we are calm,  means that they can prompt us to slow down on the days things get hectic:

  • From time to time while sitting at your desk,  take a quick break from your regular activity, and devote two minutes to being mindful of your body. During this time, just check in with your body, noticing, in particular, your shoulders, stomach, face, and hands. If you find tension in any of these places, see if you can relax.
  • In a similar way, find as many ways you can to increase your awareness of your sense of touch and see if you can use it to anchor you in the present moment.      Notice the warmth of a cup of coffee, notice your fingers touching the computer keyboard, when you wash your hands really feel the touch of the water, when you lift a glass feel the touch of the glass, feel the touch of what you eat and drink.
  • Use everyday cues as mindfulness reminders to come back for a moment to the breath. For example, if your job involves answering the phone, let it ring for two or three seconds and use the call to remind you to become aware of your breath. Thich Nhat Hahn has written about this practice: Every time you hear the telephone ringing,  stay exactly where you are. You breathe in and breathe out and enjoy your breathing. Listen, listen-this wonderful sound brings you back to your true home. Then when you hear the second ring you go to the telephone with dignity. You know that you can afford to do that, because if the other person has something really important to tell you, she will not hang up before the third ring. That is what we call telephone meditation. We use the sound as the bell of mindfulness.
  • Take breaks and try to get away from the desk, even for a short period. If you take a tea or coffee break, instead of it being just part of your morning routine which passes automatically, use it to reconnect with your sensations and your awareness of just this moment. Pay attention to the aroma of the coffee or tea, notice the first taste, how you hold the cup, the warmth in your hands and your mouth. Use the break to relax and allow the mind to settle, even briefly.
  • If your job involves using a photocopier or elevator, or going to meeting or interview rooms, use each of these movements to practice awareness. For example, walk slightly slower than normal to the photocopier, becoming aware of your movement, somewhat as we do in walking meditation. Using the elevator, resist the impulse to push the button twice to make it arrive faster and become aware of the experience of waiting. Do you notice you are rushing? What does that feel like? Allow yourself to go at the speed of the elevator rather than wishing to would go faster.

This week, reduce stress at work: 2: Starting and Ending

Mindfulness practice encourages us to drop into our awareness of breathing and our inner world as a way of working with stress. However,  keeping the sense of connectedness we feel in our formal practice is not always easy in the midst of a constantly changing everyday work life. So we need to build informal practices  – little strategies –  to help us  strengthen our awareness skills. This post suggests some practices for the start and the end of the day – the transition moments which are really important in maintaining or restoring balance.

  • Draw attention to the act of travelling to work – be it in a car or by public transport. Notice  any tension while driving – such as shoulders tensed with hands wrapped on the steering wheel – and consciously work at releasing that tension. See if you can stay in the awareness of just travelling without already being in work mode before you even arrive there.
  • When you arrive,  take a moment to ground yourself before you enter the building. If parking the car, become aware of your walking across the car park. Slow down and notice any tendency to rush. Use the walk as a conscious reminder before the workday starts. Listen to the sounds as you walk, notice the air and look around you.
  • At the end of the workday, consciously draw a line under the work you have done, making an intention to leave your work at work. Acknowledge quietly to yourself the end of the workday and be grateful for what you have accomplished. If possible, breathe mindfully for just one moment, letting go of the work.
  • Again, notice any tendency to rush on your journey home. Try and mark a break with the tempo of the office by slowing down on the way to the car or transport.  Make the journey itself as conscious as possible, restoring any balance lost during the stress of the day. When you come to a red light, use the moment to consciously become aware of your body, releasing any tension that has built up.
  • When you get home it is good sometimes to draw attention to the transition from work space to home space, by changing clothes or having a shower. Formally acknowledge to yourself that you are now home. If you can, take five minutes to quieten down and drop into stillness.

This week, reduce stress at work: 1: Do Less

Three posts on how to shift your relationship with work, stay more mindful, and reduce stress.  My father used to say that hard work never killed anyone, and he was right: some degree of being kept occupied by work is good for our creative energies. Furthermore,  work allows us make a contribution to the world. However, modern work is frequently driven by non- stop deadlines and busyness. This can spread into our whole day by the fact that we are in constant connection through emails 24/7,  notifying us of work to be done or forgotten. If we refuse to buy into this constant activity we are made to feel guilty or disloyal.

As Marc Lesser says: Our daily incessant busyness – too much to do and not enough time; the pressure to produce a to-do list and tick off items by each day’s end – seems to decide the direction and quality of our existence for us. But if we approach our days in a different way, we can consciously change this out-of-control pattern. It requires only the courage to do less.

He goes on to give three thoughts on how to begin doing less. They are our starting points for reflection on balance in work:

1. We do less by taking the time to rest mentally and physically in between or outside of our usual activities, perhaps instituting a regular practice of meditation, retreats, breaks, and reflection.

2. We do less by pausing in the midst of activities: mindfulness practice (such as coming in touch with our breath in between reading or sending emails) and walking meditation are two examples.

3. We do less by identifying and reducing unnecessary activities. In this case, “unnecessary” means those things that are not in alignment with what we want to accomplish.

Marc Lesser, Accomplishing More by Doing Less